This page will help you get a grip on the route of the Tour du Mont Blanc. There are 11 Tour du Mont Blanc étapes (stages). If you’re planning to trek self guided independently, then you need to get acquainted really well with the trail route and understand it as much as you can before trying to plan your days and where you will stay.
The Tour starts traditionally in Les Houches, a village at the beginning of the Chamonix Valley and it’s actually possible to hike either way around the loop – clockwise or anti-clockwise. Most hikers hike anti-clockwise so that the views of Mont Blanc are always in front of you, but there are actually advantages of hiking clockwise, namely less traffic on the trail in the mornings.
There are several alternative start points to the TMB if you don’t want to start at Les Houches. You could start at any of the main towns along the trail – Les Contamines (France), Courmayeur (Italy) or Champex-Lac (Switzerland).
It’s also possible to start your hike a couple of stages earlier in the Chamonix Valley so instead of starting at Stage 1, you could for example start at Stage 11 and do Stage 1 as your day 2. I often suggest this when I help trekkers plan their itinerary (I offer private consultations via zoom). This is a great option as accommodation is limited between stages 10 and 11 so by starting off on Stage 11 (you can get the Brévent cable car up from Chamonix town centre) you can either do this as a day hike and return to your Chamonix hotel, or you can book somewhere to stay in Les Houches if you want to be moving each day. This means you would finish at the end of Stage 10. Bear in mind that Stage 11 has a long, brutal descent – in fact if you took the Brévent cable car up and then the summit cable car after – you would be whizzed to the top of Brévent (and that spectacular views!) within minutes – you would ONLY have descent for the remainder of the day (around 5 hours). If you have delicate knees then you might want to re-consider turning this into your first day!
Its also a great idea to do Stages 10 and 11 as day hikes. This allows you to get some ‘training’ hikes in before with just a day pack before you set off into the wilderness!
If you aim to camp along the trail (and are not therefore tied to refuge bookings) and bad weather is predicted for the end of your trek. Instead of missing stage 10 and 11’s outrageously incredible views of Mont Blanc due to closed in weather, you could start at stage 10 and lap up the views before continuing onto ‘Stage 1’.
For now though let’s talk through each stage.
What is a ‘stage’ on the TMB?
The Tour du Mont Blanc hiking route has been divided into 11 sections which can be hiked in a day. Each section is called a ‘stage’.
If you are hiking independently and do not plan to book onto a guided tour, you do not have to follow the recommended 11 stages – you can easily create your own daily hiking plan to fit to your own schedule or level of fitness.
However, all the Tour du Mont Blanc guide books refer to these stages so it’s a good place to start to get to know the trail and is invaluable during your planning phase. If you are planning your trek yourself and going down the self guided route, expect it to take a while to read up, get to know the trail and then plan your days meticulously. There’s plenty of posts here that can help you. Read our Planning – First Steps article.
How long is each stage?
It’s worth noting that each ‘stage’ is LONG averaging between 13-20km per day over challenging terrain, expect between 700m up to 1000m elevation gain each day! Covering the entire Tour du Mont Blanc in 11 days is no walk in the park – expect to be on the trail between 7-9 hours per day.
Some of you may want to walk at a more leisurely pace and cover a shorter distance each day. In this case trekking the entire circuit of the Tour du Mont Blanc could take you nearer 14 days to complete.
Many hikers choose to hike the trek over two summers dividing the Tour du Mont Blanc in half which is a very sensible option. I’ve done this when hiking with my 10 year old. Most hikers split the trek and hike (in which ever order they like):
➳ Les Houches (Chamonix Valley- FRANCE) to Courmayeur (ITALY)
➳ Courmayeur (ITALY) – Les Houches (Chamonix Valley – FRANCE)
Other superhuman hikers fast pack the trail in a week whilst hundreds of hardcore athletes run the trail every August in the ultra endurance race, the UTMB arriving back in Chamonix with 21 -46.5 hours! The choice is yours.
Stage breakdown and overview
Below is a brief breakdown of each stage which will help you get a feel for the route of the Tour du Mont Blanc. The Tour starts traditionally in Les Houches, a village at the end of the Chamonix Valley.
If you want to make a shorter itinerary, for example you only have limited time of say a week, or you want to make shorter days because you don’t want to hike 7-9 hours every day (I hear you), then go on over to our Itineraries page where we have ready made suggested itineraries to shorten sections or to only hike the most stunning stages.
And of course if you have the time and want to hike shorter distances each day (because even the 11 day itinerary has some serious kilometres and elevation each day!) then know that there are refuges every 5km along the Tour du Mont Blanc trail so you can make your own itinerary to suit your needs. Just be sure to book early (Oct-Nov for the following summer) so that you can have your choice of refuges.
Tour du Mont Blanc distances & countries
FRANCE – STAGE 1 – LES HOUCHES (CHAMONIX) – LES CONTAMINES (16km)
FRANCE – STAGE 2 – LES CONTAMINES – LES CHAPIEUX (18km)
FRANCE/ITALY – STAGE 3 – LES CHAPIEUX (FR) – RIFUGIO ELISABETTA (IT) (15km)
ITALY – STAGE 4 – REFUGIO ELISABETTA – COURMAYEUR (18km)
ITALY – STAGE 5 – COURMAYEUR – RIFUGIO BONATTI (12km)
ITALY/SWITZERLAND – STAGE 6 – RIFUGIO BONATTI (IT) – LA FOULY (CH)(20km)
SWITZERLAND – STAGE 7 – LA FOULY – CHAMPEX-LAC (15km)
SWITZERLAND – STAGE 8 – CHAMPEX-LAC – COL DE LA FORCLAZ (OR TRIENT)(16km)
SWITZERLAND/FRANCE – STAGE 9 – COL DE LA FORCLAZ – TRÉ-LE-CHAMP (FR)(13km)
FRANCE – STAGE 10 – TRÉ-LE-CHAMP – REFUGE LA FLÉGÈRE (8km)
FRANCE – STAGE 11 – REFUGE LA FLÉGÈRE – LES HOUCHES (17km)
LES HOUCHES (CHAMONIX) – LES CONTAMINES
- height gain 646m
- height loss 633m
Stage 1 starts from the village of Les Houches at the end of the Chamonix Valley, works its way over to the village of Bionnassay then down into the Montjoie Valley to the town of Les Contamines.
Faced at the beginning of trail with a brutal 600m climb from Les Houches to the Col du Voza (1653m), trekkers can opt out of this and choose to take the Bellevue cable car and be whizzed to more of less the same elevation in less than 5 minutes. Read our post on TMB short cuts.
From the Col du Voza see spectacular views of the Dome du Gouter and Aiguille de Bionnassay. The trail now meanders down through pleasant hamlets and verdant woodland. It’s still a long day but undemanding in terms of exposure and almost completely downhill if you take the cable car up.
It’s a good introduction to the trail to warm up the legs and soak up the French ambiance but nothing in terms of sheer rugged wild beauty which is yet to come.
VARIANT TRAIL – COL DU TRICOT – There is an alternative route for Stage 1 (18km) that passes the Col du Tricot (2120m) which offers much more spectacular views than the traditional route. It’s classed as a more challenging route, which it is compared to the traditional Stage 1, however in my opinion it is not ‘difficult’ and it’s certainly worth the extra effort for the highlights of crossing a Himalayan suspension bridge (crossing the rushing glacial water over this bridge is a highlight of mine), the spectacular views of Glacier Bionassay and the fantastic view of Dômes du Miage. I would say that more trekkers actually take this route than the traditional stage 1 route now and in fact in Kingsley Jones’s guidebook THIS IS simply stage 1. If you take the Bellevue cable car short cut from Les Houches (which I would ALWAYS recommend as it cuts 2 hours of unspectacular up) then it’s only a couple of minutes before you will reach the variant stage 1 trail (see map below). If you want to hike the traditional trail it takes approximately 20 minutes to reach the trail from the top of the Bellevue cable car. It takes me 2 hours to reach the top of the Col du Tricot from the Bellevue cable car. You then have a very steep descent down to Refuge Miage. It takes me 1 hour to descend the steep zig zag trail. DO NOT rush this – an injury here would be terribly disappointing. So in total it takes me 3 hours to get to Refuge Miage which I would highly suggest for lunch – they have a lovely garden overlooking the Dôme du Miage – book ahead in peak season. This variant should NEVER be considered in bad weather. You would not want to be on the top of the Col du Tricot in a lightening storm, plus the descent to Refuge Miage would be hazardous in rain. However look at the weather forecast – if it is predicting thunderstorms in the afternoon (which is common around 4pm in July and August) then this route would be perfectly okay if you were setting off at 8am in the morning – remember it only takes 3 hours to get to Refuge Miage and after this point the route is not a problem in bad weather. Accommodation options are at Refuge de Miage (private refuge – they have one large dorm or lovely private tiny chalets in the garden) or Auberge du Truc (very authentic basic stay available to book on the TMB website) both before Les Contamines. If you’re after a much more adventurous bed for the night consider taking the ‘smuggler’s trail ‘ from the top of Col du Tricot to the tiny 18 bed Refuge Plan Glacier. If you’re looking for more information on the refuges of the TMB I’ve written an ebook on them – click here to find out more.
If you’re looking to shorten your Tour du Mont Blanc trek into less days, then the traditional route through Bionassay is one of the recommended stages to skip. However I would never recommend skipping variant stage 1 – it’s one of my favourites! However if you simply don’t have time and for example want to do the half TMB to Courmayeur but only have 3 days and don’t want to hike longer than the standard stages each day then it would make sense to start in Les Contamines and skip this stage. This can be done by taking the bus from Chamonix to Les Contamines and starting your trail there. Or if you’re coming direct from Geneva Airport you can get an airport transfer direct to Les Contamines (which is easier than catching the bus from Chamonix to Les Contamines because you need to change bus in St Gervais and often the wait time is frustratingly long). Depending on the timetable schedule it can take between 2-4 hours to reach Les Contamines on public transport. Consider a private transfer if there’s a group of you.
If you’re looking how to make stage 2 slightly easier, consider taking the Bellevue cable car to cut 2 hrs off your trail & push on through Les Contamines to stay at the first refuge on the trail after the town. Nant Borrant is a gorgeous chalet refuge 1 hr up the trail (up a very steep hill!) which will give you a head start the following day
FRANCE – STAGE 2 – LES CONTAMINES – LES CHAPIEUX
- height gain 1316m
- height loss 929m
As one of the most thrilling and spectacular stages on the Tour du Mont Blanc, this stage is not to be missed. This stage runs 18kms from Les Contamines to the end of the Montjoie Valley to Les Chapieux in the Vallée des Glaciers and commands exceptional views from it’s high altitude domain.
This is a big day with two cols to climb – Col du Bonhomme and Col du Croix du Bonhomme. Expect to see snow patches here well into the summer. If you’re trekking early – mid season (late June – mid July) hiking crampons should be in your pack to safely navigate these patches.
Refuge de La Croix du Bonhomme, a rough and ready cavernous refuge at the Col du Croix du Bonhomme has sublime views and has a great location on the trail if you’re looking to either stretch or shorten stages. Manage your exceptions here – it’s a high mountain refuge – dinner is often not as fantastic as other places (the soup in particular however their vegetable lasagne and chocolate cake are excellent!). Expect queues for the showers. Don’t depend on the packed lunch option either to sustain you the following day, it’s just a sandwich and cereal bar so stock up on lunch provisions in Les Houches or Les Contamines to keep you going through Stage 3.
The descent from the Col du Croix du Bonhomme to Les Chapieux will take around 2.3 -3 hours. Les Chapieux is a tiny hamlet consisting of two accommodation providers, the cheery Refuge de la Nova (which is very much like a hotel with bar) and the more upmarket Chambres du Soleil which have en-suite bathrooms (which is always impossible to get into – they are always fully booked!)
VARIANT – COL DES FOURS – The alternative route on this stage which crosses the Col des Fours (2665m) takes you to the highest point on the TMB which is equal in elevation to the variant Fenêtre d’Arpette on the stage 8 alternative route. In good weather (and you should only ever hike this variant route in good weather) you can see Mont Blanc. This route deviates from the traditional route at the Col du la Croix and completely by-passes Le Chapieux, dropping down via Les Tufs to Ville des Glaciers and onto Refuge des Mottets. Early in the season it’s common for snow to still be on the descent into Vallée des Glaciers – it’s aspect means it does hold the snow and it’s often the last to melt so it’s not recommended to take this route until July. It’s easy to get to the top of the col though to take a look – it’s only around 20 minutes from the cairn at the Croix du Bonhomme to the top of the col. If it’s early July and you want to check the trail you can whizz up to take a look however to be honest if there’s still snow on this 20 minute section then there’s definitely snow on the descent. Don’t do it. Do not be tempted. The descent is steep and many injuries can happen here if you slip on the snow. If there is any snow at all you must turn around and take the traditional trail through Les Chapieux. It’s a very steep descent and even if there is no snow, if you don’t feel comfortable at the top of the Col looking down the descent, it’s prudent to return the short distance to Col du Croix and continue on the traditional route to Les Chapieux. If there is snow on the trail never attempt the descent without spikes, poles and potentially an ice axe. Note: the Col Des Four by passes Les Chapieux so if you are booked into accommodation at Auberge de la Nova or Chambres du Soleil then you can’t do this variant, however if you’re booked into Refuge des Mottets then it’s actually a short cut.
Refuge de La Croix du Bonhomme, a rough and ready cavernous refuge at the Col du Croix du Bonhomme has sublime views and has a great location on the trail if you’re looking to either stretch or shorten stages. Watch out though – the food is not always as good as other refuges and often there are long queues for showers. Don’t depend on the packed lunch option either to sustain you the following day – stock up on lunch provisions in Les Houches or Les Contamines to keep you going through Stage 3.
LES CHAPIEUX (FR) – RIFUGIO ELISABETTA (IT)
- height gain 1004m
- height loss 258m
Stage 3 is another epic day on the Tour du Mont Blanc crossing over the Col de la Seigne (2516m) from France into Italy. There’s a good chance of spotting marmots once over the Col descending into Vallée de la Lée Blanche.
If you’ve stayed in Chapieux you can shave an hour and a half off your hike time by taking the frequent shuttle bus from Les Chapieux to Ville des Glaciers (€3.50 each in 2022 – 12 year olds or below are free) – (see our TMB Public Transport Options post) where the trail gradually turns into the climb for the Col de la Seigne. The shuttle bus ONLY runs in peak season so only in July and August.
In Ville des Glacier take a few minutes to bob into the cheese farm that makes the local cheese, Beaufort. It’s an interesting stop that is right on the trail, will only take a couple of minutes and the cheese is outstanding!
If you’ve pushed onto Refuge les Mottets the previous day you’ll be bang at the bottom of the Col and can roll out of the refuge onto the trail after breakfast with fresh legs to tackle the Col.
Whilst the Cicerone guide book describes the Col de la Seigne as ‘one of the easiest crossings of the circuit’, I would beg to disagree. On tired legs from the previous day’s dual col climb, don’t underestimate the Col de la Seigne. The climb may be gradual but it takes some stamina to keep going to the top with several false summits dashing your spirits can be somewhat frustrating until you finally reach the top.
Once you summit, in clear weather you’ll see Mont Blanc and the impressive spire of the Aiguille Noire (de Peuterey) on your left and the Vallée de la Lée Blanche before you. From here you’ll descend passing La Casermetta (2365m), an old customs house which is now an environmental awareness centre and well worth a visit.
The descent is only 258m down to Rifugio Elisabetta from the top of the Col so it’s an easy descent and should take only around an hour to reach Refugio Elisabetta . The refuge is similar to Refuge Croix du Bonhomme in that it’s a rough and ready high mountain cavernous refuge with unforgettable views with it’s stunning location perched at the bottom of two glaciers. Dormitories in Elisabetta can be daunting with either rather un-private sleeping platforms or triple tiered bunks. If up close and personal isn’t your bag, book a private room which are good.
Book a ticket on the Les Chapieux shuttle bus that runs frequently in peak season (July & Aug) to Ville des Glaciers cutting an hour off your trail time. Tickets in 2022 cost €3.50 (age 12 & under free). Book the night before, especially if you want to catch the first bus of the day leaving at 08.30am. Buses run approximately every 30 minutes. You can see the 2022 timetable in our TMB Shortcuts post here (which will be updated for 2023 as soon as the schedule is released)
REFUGIO ELISABETTA – COURMAYEUR
- height gain 460m
- height loss 1560m
Stage 4 doesn’t cross a col but it’s still a very demanding stage. Don’t be duped by the relative lack of elevation. Compounded days on the trail can make the climb up onto the south flank of the Val Veni seem challenging, however hikers will be rewarded by the jaw dropping scenery of the impassable Mont Blanc massif.
From Elisabetta a short knee wrenching descent leads down into the Val Veni and onto a wide flat plain where an old roman road leads along the bottom of the valley to beautiful Lac Combal, an emerald green lake hemmed in by the natural wall of the mammoth moraine wall belonging to Glacier du Miage. In front you’ll see the gorgeous A frame Cabane du Combal.
It’s here you should stay if comfort is high on your TMB schedule. With small ensuite dorms (4-6 beds), good food and excellent coffee (and Italian staff as opposed to Elisabetta) this refuge is highly recommended. (1 hr hike on from Elisabetta).
It’s a strenuous climb up from the Lac Combal up to the ruined buildings of L’Arpe Vielle Superior and onto the highest point of the day, a spur coming off Mont Favre (2430m). It’s now hiking across the southern flank of the Val Veni with an impenetrable wall of rock, ice and jagged peaks on the opposite side that you’ll be in constant awe of your surroundings. It’s a further 1-2 hours before reaching Col Chécrouit where the trail descends into the village of Dolonne and onto Courmayeur.
Note: if you’re beyond exhaustion on reaching Col Chécrouit in peak season the chair lift descends from here and then a cable car onto Dolonne.
Short cut: It’s possible to catch the bus to Courmayeur instead of ascending up onto the Col Chécrouit. It’s a good option in bad weather or if you’re just downright exhausted! It’s a 40-50 minute descent along a tarmac road from the bridge at Lac Combal to the bus stop at La Visaille. Read more about this option in our short cuts post.
Rifugio Combal is a picture perfect A frame refuge build on the Glacier du Miage moraine, with the stunning emerald green Lac du Combal before it. Rifugio Combal is a great place to stay for those seeking more comfort than the lofty, rough and ready Elisabetta. Cabane Combal’s small dorms of 4-6 all boast en-suite facilities & the food is incredible. Our top tip is to take an early pre-breakfast 10 minute amble up to the stunning glacial lake of Lac Miage, hidden at the top of the moraine.
COURMAYEUR – RIFUGIO BONATTI
- height gain 860m
- height loss 101m
From the Italian town of Courmayeur the trail leads upwards for a couple of hours through larch woodland to the beginning of the Mont de la Saxe ridge line where Refuge Bertone commands a birds eye view of the town. A refreshment here or an early lunch is well deserved after the tiring climb. The food being unforgettably delicious and the staff super friendly.
The Mont de la Saxe flank is then an easy traverse for several hours with incredible views of the Grands Jorasses opposite until you finally reach, what we believe, is the best refuge on the entire trail, Rifugio Bonatti.
Short cut – if you want to cut your trail time or you are experiencing bad weather, you can take the number 5 bus from Place Le Monte Bianco. This route runs along the valley floor of Val Ferret and can drop you at stop “Bivio Refugio Bonatti’ – it’s then approximately a 1 hour hike up to the refuge. Read all the shortcuts on the TMB here.
Make sure you order a ‘pique nique’ from Rifugio Bonatti (order the night before). It’s the best on the trail & even includes a Pantone (a famous Italian cake) and a slab of artisan dark chocolate!
RIFUGIO BONATTI (IT) – LA FOULY (CH)
- height gain 895m
- height loss 1410m
Climbing the Grand Col Ferret today you will wave goodbye to Italy and step foot into Switzerland. Leaving the wonderful Refugio Bonatti behind you, the trail is a pleasant continuation of the traverse along the flank of Mont de la Saxe, finally descending onto the floor of the Val Ferret valley.
From here it’s a gentle up to Refugio Elena with the impressive tongue of the Pré de Bar glacier slithering down from Mont Dolent, the tri-point frontière of all three countries. The Grand Col Ferret (2537m), if you take your time, does not feel as strenuous as either Col du Bonhomme or Col de la Seigne.
From the top of the Grand Col Ferret it’s all downhill into the Swiss Val Ferret and to the village of Ferret or La Fouly. The landscape changes dramatically as you enter Switzerland. Gone are the jagged icy peaks so dramatically framing the last few days. Gentle pastures, charming hamlets and wooden chalets flying the Swiss flag greet you.
Beware: the Swiss Tour du Mont Blanc étapes (stages) can be considerably more expensive than France or Italy’s. Hot foot it through Switzerland if you’re trying to keep to a strict budget.
LA FOULY – CHAMPEX-LAC
- height gain 420m
- height loss 565m
Stage 7 of the Tour du Mont Blanc étapes is both the shortest and the easiest leg. Meandering through the Swiss ‘Val Ferret’, this stage meanders low along the valley floor from the village of La Fouly through forest and meadows with the last 90 minutes an uphill spurt to the most beautiful section of the Swiss TMB, the charming lake town of Champex-Lac (pronounced Champay-Lac).
This is said to be by many, the most underwhelming Tour du Mont Blanc étape. It’s true the trail is gentle and undulating through woodland but it does take in some charming Swiss hamlets that are Instagram worthy, notably Les Arlaches.
Many chose to fast track this stage through to Champex-Lac on the bus picking it up at the end of stage 7 to arrive in Champex-Lac for dinner. I’ve done both. The bus and the trail. It’s easy to see why many guided tours choose to miss this section out and if time is short or you’re on a budget, then this is certainly the way to go.
The bus is easy to pick up from Ferret or La Fouly and changes in Orsiéres for Champex-Lac.
Whilst stage 7 is undoubtedly the shortest & easiest section on the Tour du Mont Blanc, it does have one short exposed section. There’s a chain to hold on to & it’s not particularly scary but a fall here could be dangerous.
CHAMPEX-LAC – COL DE LA FORCLAZ
- height gain 742m
- height loss 682m
Champex-Lac is a gorgeous Swiss town organised around a beautiful lake with a backdrop of forest. It’s resplendent of Canada and in fact dubbed ‘little Canada’. It’s a unique point on the tour away from the grandeur of the icy peaks.
The trail from here climbs up ‘Alp Bovine’ to where a refreshment will be necessary. Whilst not a col it’s still a steep climb so don’t underestimate the terrain. This cattle farm sees a family tending to the animals come summer. From here you’ll see the full view of the Rhone valley with Martigny and vine yards far below.
VARIANT – FENÊTRE D’ARPETTE – this variant route takes you up to 2665m – the highest point of the TMB (shared with Col des Fours). This route should only be taken in good weather! This is the most challenging stage of the entire Tour du Mont Blanc! It’s a good job that you’ve been on the trail for numerous back to back days now so your legs should be strong! This variant offers spectacular beauty taking in the Trient glacier and sweeping views to the north. The ascent and descent is challenging at 1199m up and 1139m down. Stay at Refuge Relais d’Arpette instead of Champex if you intend to take this route – it’s 45 minutes from Champex-Lac and offers excellent accommodation as well as AMAZING food, particularly for vegans and vegetarians.
Whilst stage 8 doesn’t have a col to climb, don’t underestimate the Alps Bovine traditional route. It’s a long day on the trail with 742m of elevation
COL DE LA FORCLAZ (CH) – TRÉ-LE-CHAMP (FR)
- height gain 1069m
- height loss 1178m
Mont Blanc finally comes back into view today as you climb the Col de Balme (2191m) re-entering France from Switzerland. The views at the top are stunning as the Chamonix Valley lays beneath you.
The Refuge Col de Balme has new owners who have breathed new life into the refuge. The food is amazing – try the local dish Tartiflette, a bubbling potato & cheese feast. It’s a great place to stop for an early lunch before tackling the descent from Aiguillette des Possettes down to the tiny hamlet of Tré-le-Champ.
VARIANT – REFUGE LES GRANDS – this variant route is a much less trodden route and a beautiful but challenging variant. It can be combined with the stage 8 variant route for the adventurous that are willing to cook for themselves in Refuge Les Grands. Starting at the Col de la Forclaz this route follows the Bisse du Trient to buvette Chalet du Glacier up to the Refuge Les Grands (often unmanned) and then joins the Col de Balme. From here it’s the same route via the Aiguillette des Posettes down to Tré-le-Champ as the traditional route.
Once you arrive at Refuge du Col de Balme with the Chamonix Valley before you, those of you who want to cut short your day can take the Autannes chair lift half way down & then the Le Tour gondola lift all the way down to the village of Le Tour on the valley floor. From there there are regular no 2 buses into Chamonix (every 30 mins) so you could opt to stay the night in more comfort in Le Tour, Argentiere or Chamonix. The best way to get back on the trail the following morning is to catch the train to Montroc and follow the path at the back of the train station for 15 minutes up to the start point at the Col du Montets parking. It’s a little trickier to catch theses – no 18 to Vallorcine runs 6 times a day or the no 21 shuttle bus from Les Planards (in Chamonix) to Col du Montets will drop you at the car park, however the first bus doesn’t leave until 9.20 arriving at 9.27.
TRÉ-LE-CHAMP – REFUGE LA FLÉGÈRE
- height gain 733m
- height loss 257m
Stage 10 on the Tour du Mont Blanc étapes is particularly special. It combines the thrill of climbing a series of iron ladders over rock faces to reach the Tête aux Vents cairn (2132m) on the balcon sud trail. All along this stage, if the weather is fine you will be rewarded with staggering views of Mont Blanc and the jagged peaks of the Chamonix Valley. Whilst the traditional trail continues from the Tete au Vents Cairn along the balcon to La Flégère, most TMB hikers continue up to one of the most beautiful lakes in the Alps – Lac Blanc. The refuge here is something of legend, only being increased by it’s recent closure for a few years. We would highly recommend you to take the higher trail up from the cairn which brings you to the beautiful Lac Chesery (camping is allowed here) and onto Lac Blanc (where camping is not permitted). Expect Lac Blanc to be busy with day trippers up until 3 or 4pm in the afternoon until the last chair lift departs. Then if you’re camping at Lac Chesery or staying in the refuge you’ll have the place gloriously to yourself. There’s nothing quite like sunrise at Lac Blanc waking up to the magnificent view of Mont Blanc.
If the stage 10 ladders fill you with dread, first read our dedicated post on them – half the time you’ll realise they’re actually not that bad (our girls love them!) If however you suffer from vertigo or really don’t like exposure, you can choose to take the alternative path which starts 10-15 minutes further up the Col du Montets and meets up the Tête aux Vents cairn.
REFUGE LA FLÉGÈRE – LES HOUCHES
- height gain 772m
- height loss 1546m
Stage 11 is tough with it’s significant height loss but is well worth it to witness the spectacular Mont Blanc views as you continue along the ‘balcon sud‘, the famous balcony trail on the north flank of the Chamonix valley.
Reaching Brévent, you can choose to take the famous cable car from the mid-station to the summit or put in an extra 1-2 hours to hike to the top. From here the view is unrivalled across to Mont Blanc. In fact many guided tours start with this stage to drink in the heady views of the famous iced dome for a day before losing her out of sight in the first few stages of the trail. The descent over and down from Brévent is over a stony, rocky landscape onto a ridge trail which will finally descend past Refuge Bellachat (exceptional views to Mont Blanc) before a jarring, never ending descend to Les Houches. The trail is super steep here but well trodden. Enjoy junipers, blueberries and blazing pink rhododendrons on the way down to the valley floor.
If you’re looking to cut this stage down or even in two, take the cable car from Plan Praz (Brevent’s mid station) to it’s summit to cut 1-2 hours off the trail. To cut the stage in two and to linger gloriously in these mesmerising mountains consider staying at Refuge Lac Blanc and then the following night at Refuge Bellachat (note no shower). This is a good option if you want to protect your knees from the incredibly steep jarring downhill on this last stage.
Ashish ShuklaAugust 18, 2021 at 4:25 am
This is Ashish from New York. I stumbled upon your website and I must thank you for a really well written account of all the stages. I have not found such a detailed and succinct explanation for each stage anywhere else and I have done a fair bit of research. Thank you Thank you Thank you!! After reading this blog and your public transportation write up, I feel way more confident to tackle this hike starting on September 01-2021. I am planning to do it in 6 nights/7days.
tourdumontblanchikeAugust 21, 2021 at 7:09 am
Hi Ashish, you’re welcome. Have a great trek!
CarolineAugust 21, 2021 at 5:49 pm
I totally agree with Ashish’s comments, above. We’ve done the full TMB (in 2015) and yet I still find I’m thoroughly entranced by all of the information, pictures, and tips for good planning that you share. Well done!! This is an excellent resource. I love its down-to-earth, friendly, honest tone. It’s so helpful to get real-life perspectives and details. You present them all in a very reader-friendly manner. The entries about the various refuges, and the descriptions of the traditional TMB stages, are particularly helpful… although, really, *everything* here provides great information. (My only suggestion (humbly offered) would be to proof-read the Casermetta Museum / Col de la Seigne history paragraphs, which seem of very different quality than the rest). Andrew McCluggage has put out a recent and very good book on the TMB, to add to the classic guides by Kev Reynolds and Jim Manthorpe; have you seen it? Your photographs and the attractive arrangement of each page/screen on your site really captures the allure and the magnificence of the TMB. It is an epic experience, from start to finish. Bravo, Mags!!! We will be keeping your work bookmarked for our next trip back!! I wish I could say we were heading out on the trail *today*!
tourdumontblanchikeAugust 21, 2021 at 6:29 pm
Hi Caroline, thanks for getting in touch and for your kind words. I have re-read the Casermetta post and oh my gosh – why was that not proof read! I think some of it had been translated from Italian and not checked! Apologies! I’ve taken it offline as it needs to be updated anyhow – I hiked over the Col de la Seigne a couple of weeks ago and had the pleasure of interviewing one of the staff at the Casermetta so I have that interview on film which will be uploaded to the post. Hiked the variant stage 9 a couple of days ago which is a real favourite – stunning views of the Trient Glacier! I haven’t yet read Andrew’s book but I shall – will be hiking the tour again fully in September so I’ll aim to take that one with me this time and add it to our post on guidebooks. Thanks again for letting me know about the Casermetta post – glad you did 🙂 Best wishes. Mags
Ashish ShuklaAugust 22, 2021 at 8:01 pm
Hi, Mags – I am starting my hike from Le Brevent. So, the last day of my hike, I am planning to go from Trient to Le Brevent (via Lac Blanc) in one day. I think that’s approximately 19 miles. I was wondering if you have completed that section and your thoughts on whether it can be done in one day? The one constraint I am running into is that the last cable car (descent) from Le Brevent to Chamonix is at 4:30pm. So, I will probably have to start super early from Trient. Not sure if this is do-able in one day. I welcome your thoughts/suggestions.
tourdumontblanchikeAugust 25, 2021 at 10:23 pm
Hi Ashish this would be an incredibly long day. Do you want to take public transport? One way to cut some time would be to take the chairlift down from Col de Balme then the bubble to the village of Le Tour. Then catch a bus (or walk) down the straight road to Montroc. Cross the train tracks at Montroc and walk behind the station where there is a trail that takes you up to Tré-le-Champ (10-15 mins up). This cuts out the up to Aiguillette des Posettes and the long long descent into Tré-le-Champ. It’s the only way you could cut the trail. Cutting out the Posettes would gain you possibly 2-2.5 hours although it would take at least 45 mins to get to there via public transport but at least saving your legs for the 3 hours up to Lac Blanc from Tré-le-Champ. It would be a long long day and I have to say I would never consider it but if you are a super fast trekker and aim to set off at 6am then its possible. You could always see how you are going when you get to Flégère and if you think you’re running behind take the cable car down into the valley from Flegere instead of continuing to Brevent (2-2.5 hours further). Good luck. Let me know how you get on.
BobNovember 4, 2021 at 10:41 pm
This is a great resource bar none ! If I do stages 10 and 11 in consequtive days and want to stay at a hotel each night, would a stay in the same one both nights ? How do shuttles work at the end of each stage or what other tranportation modes are needed to return the the hotel in the evening ? Thank you
tourdumontblanchikeNovember 5, 2021 at 8:57 am
Hi Bob thanks for your kind words. I’m glad our website has helped you! Yes you can stay in the same hotel. It’s a good idea and actually I’ve recommended it before to hikers who want to see a bit of Chamonix first before setting off on the trek as it’s a good way to get a few days training hikes before leaving. Of course it sounds like you’d do this at the end of the trek so you would be arriving down from Col du Balme, to Tre-le-Champ. You will need to stay either in Argentiere, Les Praz or Chamonix. Les Praz would be more convenient as the Flegere cable car arrives here at the end of your next day but there are only a few hotels here (Hotel Eden is nice). Once you arrive in Tre-le-Champ the best way to head down the valley for the night is to walk down to the train station. To get here pass the Easter Island heads in the village (you can’t miss them!) and bear on the lower left hand trail – you will pop out at the train station in around 15 minutes. You will be able to catch the train to Argentiere, Les Praz or Chamonix. You will need to repeat this journey to get to the start of the trail again the following morning. What will be nice is that you won’t need to bring your heavy pack with you!! Stage 10 ends at Flegere – it’s a very short day even with the Lac Blanc detour so you may decide to hike on to Brevent to cut a bit of your trail time the next day. At Brevent you can also take the cable car down to the valley floor (Chamonix) so in this case it would make sense to stay overnight in Chamonix instead of Les Praz. Stage 11 ends in Chamonix Les Houches. There are frequent buses and the train that would bring you back to your hotel.If you followed this plan you could spend the 3 nights in the same hotel.
JimmothyJanuary 13, 2022 at 11:58 pm
Merci beaucoup for this information, it is much appreciated. It has helped me so much in planning. The information is succinct and the web design in phenomenal!
I would like to start at Champex, go anti-clockwise, hike the TMB back around to Champex then continue on to hike the Walkers Haute Route to Zermatt. I plan on getting to Champex early to mid September after hiking a long trail in the USA June-Sept, so will have my “trail legs” then hopefully. It looks like the UTMB race will be over at the end of August so this will not be an issue. I also want to camp in a tent for the majority of the trail, sleeping in Refuges only infrequently and when I do I would not need a private room. I have ultra light gear and have experience through hiking in the USA.
Is this an unwise plan, given the start date I have chosen? It looks like the weather will still be reasonable. I do not want to miss too many beautiful views due to bad weather (but do not want to wait another year for TMB and Haute)! In September do I still need reserve Refuge bunk beds far in advance? Could I just see what’s available on the trail as I hike? I was planning on the Refuges just for a little food and a shower mostly. Last thing, what is your opinion on using my Zpacks Duplex tent for this time of year? I’m thinking I might need my NEMO Hornet tent instead but it’s heavy. Thank you!
tourdumontblanchikeApril 9, 2022 at 8:01 am
Hi, the weather is normally still very good in September and indeed has rarely any thunder storms compared to August! I had one day of rain in 8 days last year but of course it can vary. I hiked the trail solo in September last year and didn’t book refuges in advance. I only got caught out on one night but managed to find somewhere in the end. I would suggest starting early September if you are planning on continuing onto the Haute Route after. Some refuges ask you to book a meal the day before but most would allow you to eat if there is enough food by just turning up – a few might not so always have a back up handy in the form of expedition food etc just in case. Take the lightweight tent. Bear in mind that wild camping in Italy and Switzerland is tricky. Italy it is legal after 2500m! and Switzerland is not allowed at all so you need to camp at campsites. Courmayeur has no campsites but there are several in the Val Veny – unfortunately it means that you need to miss out stage 4 or hike it & come back round but that’s quite a mission. Hobo Camping is good https://www.campinghobo.com/en/ . I will be camping the trail in July! Have a great hike. All the best. Mags
TomFebruary 2, 2022 at 6:43 am
We’re planning on doing the TMB clockwise and starting at the Brevent. This gives us two opportunities to see some of the best views if the weather is not good. Telepherique up, then head down and stay at Lac Blanc, then normal days for a 10 day trip. Last day would be Les Houches to the Brevent and ride down. Both times up will be in the morning so it increases the chances of clear viewing. We live in Colorado, so we’ll be acclimatized and relatively fit. Any thoughts, advice?
tourdumontblanchikeApril 9, 2022 at 7:50 am
Hi Tom the problem with hiking the tour clockwise, especially in Chamonix is that you will have your back to Mont Blanc all the way. I would suggest if you want to start in the Chamonix Valley and take in the magnificent views of Mont Blanc on the first few days that you start from Tre-le-Champ (get the train to Montroc and then hike up 15 minutes on the trail behind the train station up to Tre-Le-Champ) hike up to Lac Blanc and then you would continue TOWARDS Mont Blanc with the views ahead of you the whole time. You can then walk via La Flégère to Le Brévent and down to Les Houches.
OriFebruary 26, 2022 at 3:58 pm
Hi, great site and thank you so much for all the information. Where can I find GPX a route file?
tourdumontblanchikeApril 28, 2022 at 10:24 am
Hi Ori FatMaps has a great map of the TMB and you can download the GPX file
CarolineMay 14, 2022 at 5:20 pm
Hi! LOVE your website, thank you so much for all the information! I am planning to do the hike in july but I must ask, is stage 7 the only part with exposure? I love hiking in the alps but would really have a probelm walking next to sheer drops (a bit traumatised from hiking in Madeira hehe)
tourdumontblanchikeMay 21, 2022 at 6:38 am
Hi Caroline stage 7 doesn’t have any exposure and is actually the most gentle section of the trail. Do you mean stage 10 with the ladders?
MarkMay 15, 2022 at 7:55 pm
Thanks a LOT for the great site and all the valuable info here !
Is there a Smartphone (iPhone) navigation application with detailed maps for TMB ?
tourdumontblanchikeMay 21, 2022 at 6:37 am
Hi Mark I use the GAIA GPS app – see my article here https://tourdumontblanchike.com/tour-du-mont-blanc-gps-gaia/
Some trekkers also use Trail Trails.
Christopher LeggMay 23, 2022 at 10:12 pm
Wow, I have also just stumbled across this, whilst I know some of the area, I shall certainly use this to plan my trip. I haven’t read it all yet but I will. Thankyou. very much.
Chris from Cornwall
tourdumontblanchikeJune 6, 2022 at 7:02 am
You’re welcome. I’m glad it’s helped you plan your trip. Happy hiking.
ivanJune 8, 2022 at 10:50 am
hi, thanks for sharing all details about TMB. Would like to know your location for wild camping, those pictures are awesome.
tourdumontblanchikeJune 22, 2022 at 4:38 am
Hi Ivan wild camping is only permitted in one of the three countries the trek goes through – France. Here you are allowed to bivvy from sunset to sunrise. Therefore this gives plenty of scope on the first and last stages. One of the best places is Lac du Cheserys just under Lac Blanc. Camping at Lac Blanc is not permitted. In Italy wild camping is only permitted above 2500m which doesn’t leave much options and in Switzerland camping is only permitted in campsites. I am due to camp the trail in the next two weeks for my first time so I look forward to being able to share more tips about camping the TMB soon. Happy hiking!
BrittneyAugust 17, 2022 at 11:46 pm
thank you so much for sharing all this info – it seems to have the most comprehensive explanation of each stage I’ve been able to find! I was wondering if you had suggestions on grouping stages together – I find a lot of 8-9-10 day itineraries out there and I was wondering if you had a suggested 9 day or 10 day with no rest days?
tourdumontblanchikeSeptember 1, 2022 at 7:16 am
Hi Brittney. It all depends how much you want to walk each day. As there are refuges every 5km along the trail you can chop up the route into 9 or 10 days without a rest day. I’m not sure what you mean about grouping together stages if you didn’t want a rest day? Happy to help you plan your itinerary over a zoom call. You can find out more about what’s included and book here https://tourdumontblanchike.com/tmb-zoom-consultation/. Best wishes. Mags
Bob BergnerAugust 31, 2022 at 8:24 pm
Great website! Thanks for all the work (and pleasure) that went into creating it. I speed hiked the TMB a few decades ago–minimal gear, sleeping under the stars wherever the day ended for a few hours a night. It was mid June (lots of snow), so I had the trail largely to myself. A tremendous experience! Now, I’d like to take my wife on a few days of the trail at a more relaxed pace. From what I remember, the last section from Champex back to Chamonix has the most dramatic scenery. Is that correct? Thanks for a quick answer here. And I look forward to setting up a consultation if (when, really) I need more detailed information. Cheers, Bob
tourdumontblanchikeSeptember 1, 2022 at 7:05 am
Hi Bob wow what an experience that must have been! Yes the variant stage 8 from Champex (via Col du Fenetre) is the most technically difficult as you have to navigate the boulder field but you also benefit from the truly incredible view of the Trient Glacier. Then Stage 10 is stunning as you are traversing along the Balcon Sud flank with Mont Blanc to your left. For me (variant) stage 1, stage 2, 3 & 4 are my favourites unless I’m taking the variant 8 then the Chamonix legs of 10 and 11. Hope that helps? Feel free to message me direct via email to set up a zoom if you need. Best. Mags
Kathy MeldrumNovember 29, 2022 at 5:45 am
Hi Mags! What a GREAT website! This info is so helpful! I have an idea for an itinerary and I’m wondering if you can provide me with any input. Is there a hike from Chamonix to Col de Balme and on to Tre le Champ where we can stay the night at Auberge La Boerne for day 1? Then on to either Lac Blanc refuge or Flegere for day 2. Then on to Bellechat for day 3 and then descend to Les Houches on day 4. We will be hiking with kids and are looking for something doable yet challenging, but I can’t quite figure out the mileage or how long it would take us. Any input would be greatly appreciated!
tourdumontblanchikeDecember 26, 2022 at 1:05 pm
Hi Kathy apologies for my delay in responding. Yes this itinerary would work – it’s similar to my 2.5/3 day itinerary here https://tourdumontblanchike.com/3-day-itinerary-lac-blanc/
You can get the train or bus to Montroc and then there is a trail from the back of Montroc train station that takes you up to Tre-Le-Champ. Often it’s easier to do this instead of getting the specific bus from Argentiere to Tre-Le-Champ as it doesn’t go very often but buses go regularly past Montroc up to Le Tour and the train stops there once an hour. It takes between 20-30 minutes to hike up the easy trail.
It only takes around 3 hours to hike from La Boerne to Lac Blanc however you will be hiking with kids so lets say 5 hours so you could have a late start enjoying your breakfast (however all refuges will kick you out around 8 or 9am so La Boerne may do this as well. Its definitely worth staying in Lac Blanc if you can get the reservation though over Refuge Flegere. The kids will love the ladders on the way up from La Boerne!
Bellachat doesn’t have a shower just to let you know but it would be a necessary stop for you with kids. It’s a good itinerary. Go for it!
KatieFebruary 12, 2023 at 6:39 pm
Excellent article, thanks so much for sharing and wishing you many more hiking adventures. Katie
tourdumontblanchikeMarch 3, 2023 at 10:28 pm
Thanks Katie. Have a great trek!